President Bush's top political adviser said this week he regretted the use of a "Mission Accomplished" banner as a backdrop for the president's landing on an aircraft carrier last May to mark the end of major combat operations in Iraq (search).

"I wish the banner was not up there," said White House political strategist Karl Rove (search). "I'll acknowledge the fact that it has become one of those convenient symbols."

Rove, speaking at an editorial board meeting with The Columbus Dispatch in Ohio on Thursday, echoed Bush's contention that the phrase referred to the carrier's crew completing their 10-month mission, not the military completing its mission in Iraq.

The banner has been a source of controversy for the Bush administration and has been mocked many times over the failed search for weapons of mass destruction (search) and the continuing violence in Iraq.

Last October, Bush said the White House had nothing to do with the banner; a spokesman later clarified that the ship's crew asked for the sign and the White House staff had it made by a private vendor. It wasn't clear who paid for the sign.

Rove also predicted that "we're going to win Ohio comfortably" in the race against Democratic rival John Kerry (search).

The Bush campaign is "building the greatest grass-roots apparatus that Ohio has ever seen," Rove said. The state's 20 electoral votes could determine the election.

"I don't mean that it's going to be close," Rove said. "What I mean is, it's going to be where everybody is going to be paying a lot of time and attention. I think we're going to win Ohio comfortably, but I do think that Democrats are going to contest it strongly."

Kathy Roeder, a spokeswoman for the Kerry campaign, said it was "stunning" that Rove feels so confident that he can win Ohio, a state that has millions of people without health care.

"Just because he's so comfortable doesn't mean everybody else is in Ohio," she said.